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Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Board of Education Not Thrilled About Options on the Table for New Student Assignment System

Posted By on Tue, Sep 15, 2009 at 10:30 AM

click to enlarge 'Harry, would you rather go to the school nearest your home, or have the Dursleys choose out the school they prefer?'
  • 'Harry, would you rather go to the school nearest your home, or have the Dursleys choose out the school they prefer?'
Last night, San Francisco's Board of Education met for a rousing three hours to weigh and discuss options for a new student assignment system. Sadly, San Francisco lost out on obtaining The Sorting Hat, and critics claim the current system results in racial isolation and concentrations of underserved students in particular schools.

The Board had originally hoped to have this matter dealt with long ago --   but it's not surprising that there are hold-ups considering where San Francisco is on this issue and where it wants to be. Complexity of the whole diversity issue aside, the Board also hopes to come out with a system that's simpler than the current one. In last night's presentation, the firm hired to help create the new system, Lapkoff & Gobalet, said these goals were especially difficult to achieve in San Francisco considering that the city itself is segregated by geography, which make diversity in the schools difficult without also taking into consideration the issue of transportation.

Although the Board agrees that diversity in schools should be prioritized, its members appear to be divided on whether that diversity should come at the price of easy access to schools (that is, attendance areas that are close to neighborhoods where the students live) and choice (that is, whether or not parents can control where their child ends up). Taking these priorities into consideration, representatives from Lapkoff & Gobalet offered three preliminary options for new student assignment systems last night. 

The options, which are all for grades K-5, K-8, and 6-8 schools only, include the following:

Assigning attendance areas with no choice; assigning attendance areas with "controlled choice" (students would be guaranteed attendance area schools but allowed to submit choices for other schools); or large attendance zones that would divide the city into thirds with some unspecified way of assigning students to schools within those zones.

Board members generally agreed that none of the options are ideal, but discussed them nonetheless. After dismissing the first option, Board members were divided between the second and third. Those who argued for large attendance zones claimed that the second option would alter too little from the status quo. Those in favor of the second option argued that the zones would create transportation issues.

Overall, it looks like the Board (and Lapkoff & Gobalet) still have plenty of work to do before it can take the next step of bringing these options to the community to get feedback before -- this time they mean it -- getting the final plan approved in March of next year.

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Anna McCarthy


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